Chi Walking and Visually Challenged Older Adults
Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a group of older adults all of whom had limitations in their vision. This included a range of eye disorders leading to some having a seeing eye dog, or a white cane, to those who appeared to be able to get along on their own but with a noticeable degree of extra caution in their movement. This support group of 12 individuals, all in their 70′s or 80′s, met monthly and I had been asked to conduct a short workshop for them on Chi Walking.
Each person shared his or her experience with walking and it was no surprise that they had many challenges that most of us do not face. Issues of balance were common as was difficulty in handling minor differences in walking surfaces and the impact of light differences on ease of walking. It was clear that for them, even more so than those with “normal” vision, good posture and good walking form were critical to getting around in the environment of their daily lives. Balance, responsiveness and adaptability were key yet most of these individuals did not have an effective postural foundation or walking style in their repertoire. I knew that I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to make a difference for them in this one introductory workshop.
In brief, I was delighted with what transpired that day. In no time, I had this group standing in good Chi Walking posture sharing enthusiastically how much more balanced and confident they felt. The tendency to stand somewhat hunched over in a cautious rigid position was soon changed to a more upright stance with upper bodies aligned and heads comfortably resting on top of their spine where they belonged. Due to the overall physical condition of the group, some of them were sitting on and off during my teaching so I took the opportunity to demonstrate how this new, aligned, engaged and balanced posture could be of great value even in the sitting position and in the act of getting up and sitting down. They seemed to be able to grasp the key role of posture and the role of gravity in movement, two central ingredients of the Chi Walking technique, even before we had started to walk in the workshop.
Within the controlled space of the large room where we were, I then taught some of the basics of the Chi Walking technique and little by little they moved slowly around the room. Given the time and physical capacity limitations that existed, I worked more slowly than ususal while emphasizing the key role of relaxation and muscular ease in what they were learning. The idea that it might be easier to walk with relaxed extremities was quite a breakthrough for some and the smiles on their faces were a joy for me as theygrasped some of the central tenets of the Chi Walking model.
When the support group ended for the day, I felt honored and pleased to have made a small difference in the lives of this group of older adults. They were enthusiatic in their appreciation and sincere in their request that I return again to help them continue on their path to more freedom, security and enjoyment in their daily lives. The benefits of good posture and good walking form were clear to them. As an aside, I also learned a lot about my teaching style that day as I had to exaggerate my physical actions and be extremely detailed and verbally descriptive in what I was discussing or demonstrating given the severe limitations in visual input that they had. Immediate and clear feedback from them was critical to the effectiveness of my teaching. All in all, it was a terrific day with everyone present, including me, getting a lot out of the experience.
- older adults,
- visually limited